So you want to adventure race…?
What you really need to know is how to deal with situations specific to adventure racing (AR). Both machine and rider will be put to the test, and proper preparation can mean the difference between enjoyable exertion and unnecessary suffering.
In general, almost all racers use cross-country bikes for AR. But how do we adapt that typical cross-country rig – and the rider that rides it – for the atypical demands of adventure racing?
This two-part article will give a run-down on gearing up your bike for adventure competitions ranging from sprint events to multi-day journeys. This first article will deal with bike set-up, maintenance, and nutrition/hydration issues.
Bike Components and Accessories
Clip-in pedals and MTB-specific shoes are recommended for their sheer efficiency, plus the stability and control it offers on downhills and technical sections. However, if the race route involves a lot of transitions, a team biathlon, hike-a-bike sections, and short bike leg distances in general, go with lightweight platform pedals with toe straps and your racing trail running shoes.
A word on suspension: Since you will be carrying a pack, a substantial amount of water and food, plus all the spares and repair kit needed on your bike, be sure to tune the suspension accordingly. Long-distance AR events can see ‘rider weight’ increase 10 to 20kgs – whereby said rider carries stacks of clothing, food and gear in a 30 litre backpack. For sprint-length events and stage races, the added load to the bike should be no heavier than 5kgs. In the latter case, pumping up the preload may not be required, but certainly a plusher, slower rebound is advisable, especially if you foresee yourself spending a long time in the saddle!
You name the bike-related disaster – it has probably happened in an adventure race before. The best defense against any potentially race-ending catastrophe is to meticulously service your bike prior to a race. Replace any worn/suspect parts and be sure to wear brand-new parts in. If you know your way around your steed, you can count on securing the post of de-facto team mechanic – and you should be kept sufficiently busy babying your team’s fleet.
Gather an assortment of spare parts and tools you think you will need for your event. Divide them into two categories: “stuff that fits onto the bike during race day”, and “stuff that goes into the transition/gear box for servicing pre-/post-race”. Items in the first category – typically listed out on the mandatory gear list – must fit into a saddle bag, or be strapped / taped to the bike frame or seatpost. Try to place as much of this essential gear as possible on the bike itself, so you do not carry it around unnecessarily on the other legs in your pack. This also eliminates any potential for misplacing these bits. It is highly frustrating to have to tighten a loose bolt on the bike, only to discover that the team’s multitool was left at the last transition when the backpacks were emptied and restocked with water and food.
The longer the race, the longer the list of items for the transition box will be. As a minimum for the shortest of races, include lube, a small assortment of tools, a couple of rags, and a couple of spare inner tubes. Spare tire patches, brake pads, bolts, pedal cleats, and chains come to mind whenever there exists the prospect of spending more than 24 hours away from access to a bike shop. In remote-area multi-day races, spare deraillers, spokes, brake rotors, tires, and shifter/brake cables may be desperately required.
Don’t forget: you can never have enough spare inner tubes! The counter to this problem is to get used to running tubeless tires with sealant inside.
Bicycles in any adventure race suffer an inordinate amount of abuse, not least of all when said bikes are being transported. Unsupported races will probably entail organizer-provided transportation for bikes between transitions, so unless bikes are properly packed away in individual bike boxes, expect some stacking of bikes against one another, with the whole lot bouncing in the back of a pick-up truck along rutted, unsealed roads.
Nutrition and Hydration
Easy access to nutrition while riding is imperative. A lot of the nutrition principles commonly applied in triathlon can be adopted readily for AR, keeping in mind that AR food requirements can be pretty substantial and with more variety.
A pouch or bag of food cable-tied to the handlebars, or even gel sachets taped to the top tube can be enough to encourage you to keep up the food intake. Water is heavy. It is best carried on the bike rather than on your back – where it just contributes to general body fatigue, so make use of frame-mounted bottle cages wherever you can. A long stage will often require bottles as well as a hydration pack to keep your fluid levels topped off; but where possible, consume what you have in your backpack first before proceeding to the bottles.